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City looks into litter, code violations

Conversation at Tuesday’s LaGrange City Council retreat at the Courtyard by Marriott quickly turned to one of the main topics of recent town halls — code enforcement.

The council sought answers on what can be done to better hold people accountable for code violations like litter and unsafe structures. Unfortunately, no answers that will see quick results were found.

“This year it [the main topic of the town halls] was code enforcement from the standpoint of trash accumulation, deteriorated properties, neglected properties, etc.,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “I share that with you to say that even though it is not on our agenda necessarily today, it weaves through a lot of what we talk about, and it is an issue that we are going to try with Alton [West] and the city manager to try to address particularly in the upcoming budget. One of the things that you may see is some additional funding available for some of these code enforcement actions.”

However, council members noted that even with more people working in the department, the process will still take time.

“We have to notify owners, and in a lot of cases where you get a property you may have an absentee owner, you may have wills that have not probated to actually get to the actual person that owns the property,” Community Development Director Alton West said. “It is a time-consuming process. Once that person has been identified, then we do have to take it to court and give them 180 days. That’s normally the time frame that the judge gives when he makes an adjudication against a property either to bring it up to code or take the structure down.”

The city is legally required to build a court case against residents who violate city codes, which in addition to time would also cost money.

“It does require staff to actually go out and build a case and document and take the pictures and so forth,” Thornton said. “Then it requires legal fees because we can’t do anything without doing a court action, and so it does require attorney’s fees for (city) lawyer (Jeff) Todd.”

The council also discussed the possibility of using and improving on existing programs that clean up some neighborhood homes.

“We do the Paint the Town every year, and the properties that we actually go to paint, we’ve found that they need so much preliminary work before we get there,” Council member LeGree McCamey said. “I am wondering if we can hook-up and partner with someone to maybe do some of the preliminary work, and then when we get there, all we have to do is paint. It takes us sometimes two weeks or more [to prepare the location].”

Typically, Angela Pace of the LaGrange Police Department addresses environmental code enforcement concerns like trash buildup, uncut grass and abandoned vehicles.

West’s community development staff generally addresses unsafe structures in the community.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on April 10 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.

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